Scientists have long believed that music is a powerful way to impact the way our brains process information. In recent years, the evidence has shown that a soothing melody can actually deliver pain relief.
Musical Pain Relief?
When you touch a hot stove, an electrochemical signal is sent from your finger to your spinal cord, where it is forwarded to the brain. In turn, areas of your brain that specialize in pain quickly assess the communication and lead to your understanding that your finger hurts. In turn, your body knows to retract your hand.
While harmful stimuli light up pain centers in the brain, the opposite is true when we hear certain types of music. Instead, the pleasure areas are stimulated. In fact, a neurochemical called dopamine is released. Dopamine release also occurs in response to tasty food, sex, and even narcotics, explains McGill University neurology professor Dr. Robert Zatorre. Since music stimulates the reward center, it can in turn help to lower the sensation of pain.
Songs You Like For Pain Management
As you might expect, your response to a particular song will result in a related degree of pain alleviation. While we may individually appreciate different musical genres, certain aspects of music tend to assist with pain management for virtually all listeners. Harmony is pleasing to the brain, while discord is not.
When researchers had participants gauge their pain level when they heard various songs, this hypothesis was confirmed. The scientists “found that people who listened to excerpts of music judged by most to be pleasant… reported less pain than those who listened to unpleasant music,” explains the Society for Neuroscience.
Relief Prior to Brain Involvement
Additional research shows that music is able to impact pain perception before signals even have time to reach the brain. In these studies, it was determined that music is able to affect the involuntary withdrawal reflex, which occurs within the spinal cord.
One study looked at how aggressively people moved their feet following a small electric shock on their ankles while they were played certain songs. Music that was perceived as less pleasing to listeners led to more forceful reflexes and higher levels of pain.
People who are listening to pleasant tunes are also freed from a sense of being trapped at a certain point in time, explains University of Utah pain researcher David Bradshaw, PhD. “Engaging your mind with music can… help alter your sense of time so you worry less about what's happening in the moment," he says.
Beyond Music For Pain Relief
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